Several large spiders have recently taken up residence around our house. There are two outside my bedroom window, one on the basement screen door, at least three on the outside of the chicken house, and who knows how many more in the yard. I’ve become so used to the one on the basement door that I look for her every time I pass that way, much as I would nod hello to an old friend. She is a cross spider, Araneus diadematus, also known as the European garden spider, which belongs to the family of orb-weavers (Araneidae), spiders that build circular webs. The name “cross spider” comes from the cross-like pattern of spots on the spider’s back:
Female cross spiders build webs and lie in wait for insects to fly into them. When an insect is caught, she wraps it in a bundle of silk and either begins eating it right away or saves it for later. I have noticed, however, that if the insect is very small (such as a fruit fly), she may simply eat it without bothering to wrap it in silk first. Of the three spiders that I’ve been observing the most, I’ve been interested to discover that each has a slightly different method. The largest spider (photographed above), on the basement door, spends most of her time hanging in the centre of her web, and is unperturbed by the door opening and closing or by curious humans pointing cameras at her. The second spider has built a web on the top of my window, and seems to divide her time between the web and a perch on top of the window frame. She quickly scuttles back up to that perch if I close my window, but otherwise ignores my movements. Finally, the third spider has a web on the side of my window, but she is the most skittish of the three. I rarely see her on her web, and she usually darts behind a cupboard on the wall as soon as I move the window or walk by.
These spiders will lay their eggs later this fall and, as the weather gets cold, they will die. The young spiders will hatch in the spring, and a few will likely grow to become large spiders like these next fall.
I used to dislike spiders, but the more I observe them the more I enjoy watching them. Because spiders often appear in the house as well (although thankfully these large cross spiders remain outside!), they are probably the group of invertebrates that I see most often these days. Like everything else in nature, the closer I look, the more interesting they become, and the easier it is for dislike and fear to turn to interest and even love for these eight-legged dwellers of house and garden.